The 10-1 Los Angeles Rams head into Week 13 ready to solidify their position at or near the top of the NFC with the playoffs looming.
But now past Thanksgiving, many teams are essentially wrapping things up and preparing for the 2019 offseason and the 2019 NFL Draft. Six teams (the Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants) have less than four wins and are in pre-offseason mode (the 2014 Carolina Panthers were 3-7-1 after 11 games and still made the playoffs...but that’s just aliens at work). Then you’ve got the four-, five- and six-win teams fighting out for wild card space. Each week here on, though, you can eliminate one win more. Any four-win teams next week can start making vacation plans in January. Five-win teams heading into Week 15 are in the same boat.
With so much of the NFL (and soon, a majority) looking at March 13 when the NFL New Year starts with an eye towards the draft, here are the three flashpoints for the Rams.
This is a bigger deal for teams who have severe roster issues and are in the mix for players whose draft stock really hinges on the early picks, it’s still a factor for the Rams. The Rams’ draft order will be set by their performance in the playoffs, but suffice to say it’ll be late in rounds.
As of right now, here’s the Rams’ draft order for next spring:
2019 NFL Draft LA Rams Order
|2||61||29||Via Chiefs||Taylor Rapp||S||Washington|
|3||70||6||Via Buccaneers||Darrell Henderson||RB||Memphis|
|3||79||15||Via Falcons||David Long||CB||Michigan|
|3||97||33||Via Patriots||Bobby Evans||OL||Oklahoma|
|4||134||32||Via Patriots||Greg Gaines||DT||Washington|
|5||169||31||Rams pick||David Edwards||OT||Wisconsin|
|7||243||29||Via Patriots||Nick Scott||S||Penn State|
|7||251||37||Comp pick||Dakota Allen||LB||Texas Tech|
The second-round pick went to the Kansas City Chiefs for CB Marcus Peters. The third-round pick went to the Jaguars for EDGE Dante Fowler, Jr., though that will change with compensatory picks. Assuming the Rams get at least one third-round pick for either Jets CB Trumaine Johnson or Kansas City Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins, the Jags will get the comp pick; if we get two third-rounders, the Jags get the higher one. And our seventh-round pick was packaged with LB Alec Ogletree for two picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. So we’ll see where we pick after the playoffs and once we get comp picks settled in late February, we’ll have our draft pick haul...before General Manager Les Snead begins trading them all away.
This will certainly be at the forefront of many Rams fans’ minds.
Edge rushers, inside linebackers, cornerbacks, offensive line help, safeties, defensive line youth, backup quarterback options...It’s all coming down the pipe. So prioritizing things will obviously be a major effort.
In a draft order update with roster gaps at NFL.com, they’ve got our roster gaps as OLB>DB>DT (I’m going to try to get away from using “roster needs” as it’s misleading as a term given the varying level of “need” involved). Not much to quibble with there in terms fo the priorities, though I’d separate the needs for cornerback and safety.
Part of what we have to consider with roster gaps is attrition:
2019 Los Angeles Rams Free Agents
|Marcus Peters||CB||UFA (option)||Optioned|
|Brandin Cooks||WR||UFA||Re-signed, 5-yr, $80m|
|Aaron Donald||DT||UFA||Re-signed, 6-yr, $135m|
|Dante Fowler, Jr.||EGDE||UFA||Re-signed, 1-yr, $14m|
|Todd Gurley||RB||UFA (option)||Re-signed, 4-yr, $60m|
|Rob Havenstein||OL||UFA||Re-signed, 4-yr, $32.5m|
|Cory Littleton||ILB||RFA||Tendered (2nd round)|
|Malcolm Brown||RB||RFA||Tendered (original round)|
|Blake Countess||DB||RFA||Tendered (original round)|
|Troy Hill||CB||RFA||Tendered (original round)|
|Morgan Fox||DE||ERFA||Tendered (ERFA)|
|Dominique Hatfield||CB||ERFA||Tendered (ERFA)|
|KhaDarel Hodge||WR||ERFA||Tendered (ERFA)|
|JoJo Natson||KR/PR||ERFA||Tendered (ERFA)|
|Kevin Peterson||CB||ERFA||Tendered (ERFA)|
|Lamarcus Joyner||S||UFA||Signed by OAK|
|Rodger Saffold||OL||UFA||Signed by TEN|
So part of what will determine our roster gaps is which of the pending free agents the Rams could re-sign. I’d expect DL Ndamukong Suh and S Lamarcus Joyner to exit (more comp picks!), but what of OL Rodger Saffold III or the three edge rushers in Fowler, Dominique Easley and Matt Longacre? And what about the Rams’ plays in free agency or Snead’s potential trade action next spring? Any new moves could erase roster gaps that exist right now.
We’ll have to see.
This is the aspect that’s hardest to project that can change everything. Going into this season, you could have made a pretty strong argument for drafting a right guard in the 2019 offseason. Now? Hard not to think Austin Blythe could man that spot for years.
Or take cornerback. Peters and CB Aqib Talib both are on deals that expire after next season. How the two play down the stretch and in the postseason will help the Rams determine their value for the two on a potential new deal while impacting a potential decision to bring in new cornerback talent through the draft.
Longacre has likely played his way out. What about Fowler? What does he have to do to earn a new deal? Will the Rams invite the option to take an edge rusher early regardless?
What of the senior members of the offensive line in LT Andrew Whitworth and C John Sullivan? The Rams took OL Joseph Noteboom in the third round last year, though he may be a more fitting successor to Saffold. And yes, Noteboom preceded C Brian Allen’s addition, but would the Rams be comfortable slotting him in any time soon given the scope of the expectations for this franchise in the short-term? If Whitworth and Sullivan begin to show signs of age, the Rams would certainly have to elevate the effort to find a successor for each as Noteboom and Allen are the only backup OL on the roster. Given the reaction to Noteboom and Allen in the draft, I’m not sure taking an offensive lineman in the first round would be terribly popular, though you could certainly justify it on the merits.
I’ll get cracking on mock drafts soon. But as we do more general updates on the draft, it’s going to revolve around these three factors.
If the Rams can handle the transition well given these three factors, there’s little reason to think the success they’ve enjoyed last year and thus far this season (to the extent that you can qualify it success without a playoff win...yet...) will fade any time soon.